When nobody was watching over Easter, our Government did something very shady. No, they didn’t nick your Easter eggs. What they did was much, much worse.

Simon Bridges, Minister of Energy and Resources, tried to nick your right to protest in an embarrassing and clumsy attempt to suck up to to foreign oil companies. The new minister, who appears to be fumbling with his new job, and with the concept of democracy, has proposed a law change designed to crack down on peaceful protest at sea.

According to SImon Bridges, if you stand up and defend our oceans and beaches from an oil spill, you should face jail or a heavy fine.  

This new law won’t even be checked for breaches of the Bill of Rights -- it's the type of law-making that is more suited to Soviet-era Russia, not New Zealand.

Bridges has shown an arrogant contempt for New Zealanders' long held right, and proud tradition, of peaceful protest at sea. He’s discounted our rich history of protesting for change. He’s trampled over the legacy of those brave New Zealanders, including Government Ministers, that took to the seas to stop nuclear testing in our back yard.

And on top of all that, independent legal advice shows that the introduction of Bridges’ measures would actually be in breach of international law!

Peter Williams QC described the law change as anti-New Zealander and written to protect the interests of foreign mining companies. He described it as draconian and shocking toadie legislation.

Bridges admitted that he has consulted with big oil in drafting this law, so we’ve dubbed it the Anadarko Amendment. Anadarko are the Texan oil giant who is planning to start dangerous deepwater drilling off our coastlines next summer. It’s also being called the ‘Petrobras Law’ and is another example of how the Government are writing laws, behind closed doors, that look after the profits of big business before the rights of New Zealanders. We’ve seen it with Warner Brothers and Sky City, now they’re doing it for the oil companies.

And it has proven very unpopular.

Yesterday, many prominent New Zealanders and groups signed a join statement of opposition to the law change, including Greenpeace, Rt Hon Geoffrey Palmer QC, Peter Williams QC, WWF, Forest and Bird, Dame Anne Salmond, Rikirangi Gage of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Sir Ngatata Love, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, George Armstrong (founder of the Peace Squadron), Amnesty International NZ, and Lucy Lawless for starters.

Within 24 hours, over 10,000 more New Zealanders have joined them by signing on to the statement online.

In the seventies and eighties, ordinary New Zealanders took to the sea in their own boats to protest against nuclear powered ships and submarines entering New Zealand harbours.They were not criminals. From the seventies to the nineties, more New Zealanders, ordinary people just like you, sailed to Moruroa to protest against French nuclear testing in the Pacific. They were not criminals either. In 1973 the NZ Government itself sent two ships - the HMNZS Otago and HMNZS Canterbury - to Moruroa Atoll to protest French nuclear testing. They were not criminals. In 2010 a flotilla went to sea off the East Cape to protest the Petrobras deep-sea oil survey ship. They were not criminals.

We stopped French nuclear testing in the Pacific. Petrobras abandoned its oil drilling plans in our waters.

Our country is safer and less polluted as a consequence - and that is why it is so important to defend the right to protest at sea now.

As Bunny McDiarmid, a veteran of many very effective protests at sea said, “the most risky activity in the deep-sea for our economy and way of life is not peaceful protest, it’s deep-sea oil drilling. You’d have to be some kind of knucklehead not to realise that.”

Join the over 10,000 who have signed the statement online “In defense of the right to protest at sea”.

Photo caption: 1978 -  Waitamata Harbour, Auckland. The vessel in the foreground is the Alliance - a scow which was part of the Peace Squadron. They were protesting the arrival of the US nuclear submarine, Pintado which was escorted in by the HMNZS Waikato and two naval helicopters.